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Yasiel Puig's Successor, Aristides Aquino, Has Exploded from Nobody to Superstar

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2019

MIAMI, FLORIDA - AUGUST 29:  Aristides Aquino #44 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Marlins Park on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

A month ago, virtually no one knew Aristides Aquino's name. He didn't top any prospect lists, and he hadn't made a mark in the big leagues since signing as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2011.

Now, after a scalding August, he's a key cog in the Cincinnati Reds offense and is more than filling the Yasiel Puig-shaped hole in their lineup.

Before we parse Aquino's meteoric ascent, let's gaze at those August numbers: 29 games, 115 plate appearances, 33 hits, 14 home runs, 33 RBI, 1.158 OPS.

His 14 round-trippers set the National League rookie record and tied the franchise record for homers in a calendar month, and the eight home runs he swatted in his first 12 games set the all-time big league mark.

Here he is clearing the fence three times Aug. 10 against the Chicago Cubs:

Surely the Reds were hoping for something when they called up the 25-year-old in the wake of the July 31 three-team trade that sent Puig to the Cleveland Indians. But they couldn't have been expecting that.

"Losing Yasiel and Scooter [Gennett] in the trades, we need guys to step up," Cincinnati skipper David Bell told reporters. "When he's not hitting a home run every night or two or three like he is, he's proven that if he stays with his approach and continues to be exactly who he is, he's good enough to play at this level and contribute in a big way to our team."

Aquino flashed power at Triple-A Louisville, as he hit 28 home runs and posted a .992 OPS in 78 games. But no one was prepared for this next-level raking—including opposing big league pitchers.

Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Speaking of which, this is the part where the league tries to adjust. There is swing-and-miss in Aquino's game, as evidenced by his 17.2 percent swinging strike rate (the league average is 11.1 percent).

That said, he's cut down on his strikeout rate as he's advanced through the Cincinnati system:

  • 2017 (Double-A): 28.8 percent
  • 2018 (Double-A): 25.2 percent
  • 2019 (Triple-A): 25.1 percent
  • 2019 (MLB): 23.3 percent

He ranks third in the game in the Statcast metric barrels per plate appearance percentage at 11.7 percent. (For comparison, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge are sixth and seventh at 10.9 percent.)

He doesn't match Puig's defensive prowess in right field, but he's adequate with the leather and has a howitzer arm.

Small-sample caveats apply, especially to Aquino's big league stats. He wouldn't be the first rookie to stumble after a torrid start.

Last season, Ryan O'Hearn hit 12 home runs with 30 RBI and a .950 OPS in 44 games with the Kansas City Royals as an out-of-nowhere 25-year-old. This season, he's hitting .185.

There's no rule that says Aquino must suffer the same fate. Clearly, he's made himself at home in the Reds clubhouse.

"He's got an infectious personality," Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart told reporters. "He keeps everybody smiling and laughing. I'm really happy that, one, he's on our team and, two, he's had the start that he's had. It's been really cool to watch."

Gary Landers/Associated Press

The Reds are all but out of the postseason picture at 64-74 entering play Tuesday. They're building a foundation for next year and beyond behind a pitching staff anchored by Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer and, perhaps, an offense built around Aquino.

Again, his career is young. It isn't time to place him next to Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan in the Cincinnati pantheon just yet. But Reds fans can dream big.

"First of all, the main thing is I'm not focused on my numbers," Aquino told reporters through translator Julio Morillo. "I don't think about what I've done."

Fair enough. As for the rest of us? We can look ahead and imagine what he might do next.

   

All statistics accurate as of Monday and courtesy of FanGraphs and MLB.com.

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